Do Catfish Have Teeth?

Do Catfish Have Teeth?
Do Catfish Have Teeth?

Many catfish fishermen have probably wondered if catfish have teeth. This question usually comes up when you’re removing a hook from the mouth of a catfish, and you see nothing in the mouth of the fish.

Do catfish have teeth? How do they eat without teeth? Do people really fish for catfish by sticking their hand in the mouth of the fish?

I’ll answer all those questions, and more, in this article. I’ll even cover how to properly handle a catfish and how to treat catfish “bites” and “stings.”

Do catfish have teeth?

Yes, catfish do have teeth. Don’t worry, catfish don’t actually have incisor teeth like sharks or pike. Instead, catfish have cardiform teeth. These teeth are extremely small and feel more like sandpaper than teeth.

These small teeth help a catfish grind down their food. Remember, catfish mostly feed in the mud, so they don’t need big incisor teeth to tear apart their prey.

Can catfish bite me?

No. Catfish cannot bite you since they don’t have incisor teeth. In fact, catfish don’t even bite their prey, so the risk of a catfish biting you is pretty much non-existent. The worst catfish “bite” you will get is a minor abrasion similar to bass thumb. It will feel like rubbing sandpaper against your finger.

Despite this, catfish are still a somewhat dangerous fish to handle because they can sting you. I’ll cover this aspect later.

What is noodling for catfish?

Noodling for catfish is simply fishing for catfish with your hand. You literally stick your hand into a hole and grab a catfish by the mouth. As I mentioned earlier, catfish don’t have teeth, so you don’t have to worry about that.

Blindly sticking your hand into a hole does have risks, though.

Is noodling for catfish safe?

Catfish don’t have teeth, so you might think noodling for them is safe. I will say that a catfish isn’t going to bite your hand off while noodling – they just don’t have the teeth for that.

However, you do run the risk of a snapping turtle, snake, or alligator biting you while noodling. A big catfish may also leave a huge scrape on your hand if you noodle barehanded.

I recommend wearing a glove while noodling for catfish. You should also have an experienced noodler teach you the basics of noodling.

Do catfish sting?

Yes. All types of catfish have barbs that will “sting” you if they penetrate your skin. In my opinion, catfish are the most dangerous fish that freshwater fishermen will handle, and they don’t even have teeth.

Trust me, getting stung by a catfish hurts. It probably won’t end your day, but it will definitely put a damper on it. You should also treat the injury to prevent infection.

Where are the barbs on catfish?

The barbs on catfish are on the tips of the dorsal fin and pectoral fins. The other fins do not have barbs.

Contrary to popular belief, the whiskers on catfish do not have barbs. You can touch the whiskers as much as you want with no risk of getting stung.

How to Safely Handle a Catfish

As I mentioned earlier, catfish are probably the most dangerous fish that freshwater fishermen will encounter. The teeth aren’t (usually) of much concern on catfish, but the barbs do pose some risk. Here are some tips for safely handling a catfish.

Small catfish are more dangerous

First, catfish in the 1-3 pound range will give you more problems since they have sharper barbs. They’re also smaller, so your hand is in much closer proximity to the barbs.

It’s mostly because the barbs are ]much sharper, though. Bigger catfish tend to have big, dull barbs that can’t even pierce your skin. Big catfish have a more powerful jaw, so you do have to take caution with that.

Hold small catfish behind the dorsal fin

The best way to avoid getting stung by a catfish is to firmly grip the catfish by wrapping your hand directly behind the dorsal fin. Your index finger should actually be pushing up against the dorsal fin. This prevents the catfish from lowering its barb into your hand.

Unfortunately, you can still get stung when you release the catfish into the water or your cooler. In fact, most catfish stings occur during release. And there really isn’t anything you can do to prevent those jabs. Just use caution when releasing the catfish.

Keep an eye on the barbs

A decent amount of catfish stings occur when anglers reach towards the catfish, often when it hasn’t been landed, without really paying attention. That might work with bluegill, but you will likely get jabbed if you do that with a smaller catfish.

Please pay attention when you handle a catfish.

Use a net and lip grip for large catfish

Large catfish are any catfish that you can’t wrap your hand around, which is about 8 to 10 pounds for most people. You generally don’t have to worry about the big, dull barbs on these catfish. Plus, there isn’t any reason to put your hand behind the barbs, so you’re unlikely to get stung.

Anyway, get the catfish in your net and hold it with a lip grip. Big catfish have a jaw powerful enough to crush shells, and those jaws can definitely harm your fingers. Don’t worry, the lack of incisor teeth means that you won’t have more than some minor discomfort on your fingers. That said, it’s very uncomfortable if a catfish “bites” you.

Cut off the barbs

I like to cut off the barbs on catfish that I keep. It makes cleaning and handling the fish much easier. And yes, catfish barbs can still sting long after the fish has died. Don’t throw the cut barbs on the ground, either. You should throw them in the water or the trash.

Obviously, don’t cut off the barbs if you plan on releasing the catfish. The catfish use the barbs for defensive purposes!

How to Treat Catfish Stings

If you do enough fishing for catfish, then you will get stung. Everyone eventually gets stung. It’s just a numbers game.

Here are some tips for treating a catfish sting. And don’t worry, a string won’t normally end your day.

Note: This isn’t medical advice. Consult a doctor before treating a catfish sting.

Pour anti-septic on the sting

Catfish barbs have a lot of nasty bacteria, which makes it fairly easy to get an infection if the barb pierces your skin. I always have some anti-septic with me when fishing, and I will dump that on any wound that I get.

Remove any pieces of barb from your skin

Infection normally occurs when a piece of the barb gets stuck under your skin. Fortunately, this isn’t particularly common with catfish stings, but it does happen on occasion.

I like to look for any pieces of the barb in the wound immediately after I get stung. If I see a piece of barb, then I will usually pick it out with my fingers before pouring anti-septic on the wound.

Rub catfish slime on the wound

First, this tip isn’t medical advice – use it at your own risk. I like to rub catfish slime on my catfish wounds. I know it sounds gross, but scientists have discovered that catfish slime actually helps heal wounds. The slime also does a good job of reducing the pain from the sting.

As I said, use this information at your own risk. It has worked well for me, though.

How to Treat a Catfish “Bite”

You will occasionally get bit by a catfish when noodling. You may also get bit while lip holding the fish. Personally, I don’t view catfish bites as a big problem because the cuts rarely bleed. If the cut does bleed, then you should treat it. Here are some tips for treating a catfish “bite.”

Use anti-septic

I always douse my hand in anti-septic when a catfish bite breaks my skin. If the bite doesn’t break the skin, then there really isn’t anything to worry about. It’s pretty similar to bass thumb.

Frequently wash it

I also like to frequently wash my cuts with fresh water. This will help prevent any dirt from getting inside it. I do like to wait for the cut to scab, though. If you keep washing it before it scabs, then the cut will bleed for a lot longer.

Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes for a small cut to scab over. This is a great time to eat lunch or switch spots.

Use caution while handling bait

Handling bait is the most common way to get dirt in your cut. In general, I will wait for any cut on my hand to scab over before I bait my hook. It’s a little annoying, but it only takes a few minutes. Other anglers like to use a bandaid. However, bandaids don’t work well while fishing because of the water and bait.

If you can’t wait to bait your hook, then you avoid getting any bait juice into your wound.

Final Thoughts

Well, that’s about it for catfish teeth. To summarize, catfish do have teeth, but the teeth are so small that they aren’t a concern for fishermen. Fishermen are so unconcerned about catfish teeth that some of them blindly stick their hand in catfish holes to grab catfish by the mouth – it’s called noodling.

The bigger concern with catfish is the venomous barbs on their fins. Those barbs hurt if they puncture your skin, but they won’t ruin your day. At least you don’t have to worry about teeth and barbs!


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